Award-winning scientists call for more data sharing in health care

A team of scientists at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) have won the inaugural Trottier Webster Innovation Award for a new project that empowers patients through the Opal patient portal app. Dr. John Kildea and his colleagues will receive $100,000 for their pioneering work to help patients access their personal health care data from multiple hospitals.

“Patients have the greatest vested interest in their own health care outcomes,” notes Dr. Kildea, a scientist at the RI-MUHC and an Assistant Professor at McGill University. “Patients don’t just want comprehensive access to all of their health care data, they are demanding it.”

Lab results accessed through a mobile phone

The Opal patient portal app, a smartphone application developed by Dr. Kildea, Dr. Tarek Hijal and their team at the MUHC, puts power in the hands of patients. With just a few taps, patients have access to unique features such as contextualized medical data, including lab results, medical notes and treatment plans. Opal arose from a dynamic collaboration between Dr. Kildea, Dr. Hijal and breast cancer patient Professor Laurie Hendren, a renowned computer scientist at McGill University who passed away from her illness in May 2019 just as Opal was starting to be used at the MUHC. The award-winning team will further develop Opal as a platform through which willing patients will have the option to donate their health care data for research. In doing so patients will be able to see how their data are used in research studies.

Through the MUHC Foundation, the Trottier Family Foundation and the R. Howard Webster Foundation contributed $3 million to create an endowment for the research innovation fund, which awards the annual $100,000 prize. As part of its mandate to foster a culture of innovation at the RI-MUHC, only the most cutting-edge and transformative proposals are considered for funding.

“Philanthropy fills in the gaps in terms of achieving excellence in research and advancing patient care,” says MUHC Foundation Chair Norman Steinberg. “That’s why our donors and volunteers are so important in fostering innovation in research, which ultimately benefits all patients, and the broader community.”

This year’s Trottier Webster Innovation Award recipients will improve the lives of patients by empowering them through access to their data and positioning them at the forefront of future health care research.

“The innovative nature of this competition resulted in many original applications submitted for consideration, but the winners’ submission was the most novel and had the greatest potential to make a positive impact for patients,” notes Dr. Bruce Mazer, Interim Executive Director and Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) of the RI-MUHC. “Dr. Kildea’s project outlines how we can improve the lives of patients by collecting their data and sharing it across the health care network, potentially unravelling the legal and ethical complexities of data sharing.”

Award-winning scientists call for more data sharing in health care

The R. Howard Webster Foundation and The Trottier Family Foundation have played an important role in building, and equipping the MUHC, and they remain committed to further advancing patient care through encouraging state-of-the-art research.